Dusty's Reviews > Baudelaire in Chains: A Portrait of the Artist as a Drug Addict

Baudelaire in Chains by Frank Hilton
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Aug 22, 09

it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2009
Read in August, 2009

More a slanted biography than a piece of literary criticism, Baudelaire in Chains is the sort of book that inspires reductionist biographical movies that boil artists down to their vices. Sylvia Plath is depressed. Iris Murdoch suffers from Alzheimer's. And Charles Baudelaire, author of a couple volumes of flamboyantly filthy-gorgeous 19th Century French poetry, is a drug addict.

There are merits to this book. Hilton is a good writer, and when he's excerpting Baudelaire's letters or recounting anecdotes, his book is extremely readable. I'd even call it enjoyable. Problem is, he is so intent upon attributing all Baudelaire's mysteries and idiosyncrasies to his purported "enslavement" to opium that, well, after a while he begins to shrill. Baudelaire had trouble keeping track of his money? Obviously he spent it all on laudanum. Baudelaire couldn't maintain a pleasant relationship with anyone in his family? Obviously his addiction to opium prevented him from discerning the consequences of his vitriolic outbursts. Baudelaire suffered from stomach cramps and sometimes overslept? Obviously his body suffered from long-term opium abuse.

Don't get me wrong: Hilton probably has a point -- that Baudelaire's mostly 19th-Century biographers don't give full consideration to the effects of his use of opium. But Hilton takes that point to the ends of the earth in this book. Okay, I wanted to say, after two hundred and twenty pages, I've got it. THE MAN WAS ADDICTED TO OPIUM. Now, what?
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08/07/2009 page 19
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message 1: by Carly (new)

Carly oh. this looks fun!


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